Biden calls on CEOs to improve nation’s cybersecurity following wave of attacks

President Joe Biden urged a group of chief executive officers to help improve cybersecurity across the nation’s critical infrastructure and economy, citing a lack of trained professionals to adequately protect the U.S.

“Our skilled cybersecurity workforce is not growing fast enough to keep pace,” Biden said Wednesday at a meeting with chief executives including Apple Inc.’s Tim Cook, Alphabet Inc.’s Sundar Pichai, Inc.’s Andy Jassy, Microsoft Corp.’s Satya Nadella, and JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Jamie Dimon.

The meeting follows massive cyber and ransomware attacks over the past year on critical infrastructure, including that of Colonial Pipeline Co. and JBS SA, as well as software and cloud providers such as Microsoft and SolarWinds Corp., which have largely been perpetrated by cyber groups based in Russia and China.

Biden called the meeting to discuss how industry and the federal government can partner to improve cybersecurity in the face of debilitating ransomware and cyberattacks. The president plans to urge the CEOs to make commitments on workforce development and improvements to cybersecurity in their sectors, according to a senior administration official.

As part of the meeting, the White House is announcing new public-private initiatives as well as cybersecurity workforce training efforts to fill the approximately 500,000 open jobs in the industry.

The talent shortfall in cybersecurity spans industries. That means gaps exist in all 16 critical infrastructure sectors, like energy, health care and manufacturing—and that companies in those sectors lack the necessary personnel to adequately defend computer networks against cyberattacks, said Simone Petrella, CEO of the cybersecurity training firm CyberVista.

The cybersecurity talent portal CyberSeek—a project support by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education—estimates more than 464,000 cybersecurity job openings between April 2020 and March 2021.

Biden’s administration continues to point to cybersecurity as a priority amid the uptick in attacks. Among the actions the White House has taken this year is an executive order directing federal agencies to boost security protocols and mandating cyber incident reporting from large pipeline companies. But more collaboration is needed between private companies and government, the official said, adding that the private sector in many cases has more authority or influence than the government to make necessary cybersecurity changes.

The meeting will focus on ransomware, the root causes of malicious cyber activity, and how to ensure that cybersecurity is baked into technology sold by industry from the start, according to the official.

Other participants include chief executives from International Business Machines Corp. and ADP Inc. as well as from banking giants Bank of America Corp. , TIAA-CREF Individual & Institutional Services, LLC and US Bancorp; energy companies Southern Co. and Duke Energy Corp.; and water and wastewater utilities including American Water Works Co. Inc.

Critical infrastructure, workforce

After a meeting with Biden, several key cabinet secretaries will lead three breakout sessions with the industry participants.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm will lead a session on critical infrastructure resilience, with executives from the energy and water sectors.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and head of the Small Business Administration Isabella Guzman will meet with tech and insurance executives, including from Travelers Cos. Inc., on improving the security of cloud and tech systems.

Chris Inglis, the U.S.’s first national cyber director, will lead a third session focused on cybersecurity workforce. He will meet with leaders from education groups including Girls Who Code, Code.Org and several universities.

Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology, and Jen Easterly, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, will also participate in the event.

—With assistance from Kartikay Mehrotra, Katherine Doherty and Hannah Levitt.

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